Dining Down Under: Australian spinach and feta damper

Here we are, back in the world of blogging after a five week absence, without much having changed… oh, except for the fact that we are now Mr and Mrs! We had an indescribably wonderful time in the Land Down Under, with plenty of excellent food, with special mention having to go to the delicious meals we enjoyed at our wedding and the week before at Flaxton Gardens.

Flaxton Gardens lunch

Then there was our fantastic croquembouche wedding cake, made by Mel of Chocolate2Chilli.

Croquembouche

And a week before the wedding, we were very lucky to receive a nine-course degustation dinner at The Foraging Quail as a wedding present, which also easily sits at the top of the list of our best holiday dining experiences.

Foraging Quail

In addition to all of this wonderful dining out, we had deliberately arranged our cooking challenge so that Australia was the next country we were to cook from, and we had all intentions of taking advantage of the fact that we were actually in the country and cooking some sort of Australian feast. However, there were three factors we hadn’t accounted for:
a) There were way more last-minute wedding tasks than we thought and we barely had a minute to spare.
b) We were staying in a holiday unit that didn’t contain a single sharp knife, any means of measuring ingredients or any baking equipment.
c) Australia doesn’t really have a national dish. We usually make surf and turf and Cheddarmite scrolls for Australia Day, and Anzac biscuits for Anzac Day, but the only other ‘national dish’ we could think of was a meat pie – but apparently even that has been outvoted in favour of roast lamb, which we didn’t think felt traditional enough. There’s also pavlova, of course, but factor b) ruled that out straight away.

So the days flew by until it was nearly time for the wedding festivities to begin, and the closest we’d come to making an Australian dish was buying a bag of fresh prawns from the local seafood shop – delicious, but not really blog-worthy. Fortunately, there was one tried and tested recipe that was able to stand up in the face of all of those obstacles (with the assistance of some measuring cups borrowed from Miranda’s sister): spinach and feta damper. Damper is a traditional bread, originally developed by Australian stockmen who travelled in remote areas for months at a time with only basic rations of flour, sugar and tea, and was usually baked in the coals of a campfire. Obviously, neither spinach nor feta was a traditional ingredient, but the two seem to be a ubiquitous combination across Australia in pastries and bread products, and they certainly liven up the plain bread.

Spinach and feta damper
(No idea where this recipe originally came from – it’s been in our recipe file for years.)

Ingredients
900g flour
85g soft butter
10g salt
50g baking powder
170ml low fat milk
330ml water
300g feta cheese
100g grated cheddar cheese
200g chopped spinach

Method
1. Preheat oven to 200C.
2. Rub butter into dry ingredients.
3. Add the milk and water and mix to a soft dough by hand.
4. Add the feta, cheddar and spinach and fold in. Mix until all ingredients are well combined.
5. Form into two round-ish loaves, lightly dust with flour and bake for about an hour (keep checking it though as the original recipe says 40-45 minutes – might depend on the oven).
Makes 2 loaves (or one monster one but that would take forever to cook).

Damper ingredients
Loving the Coles brand ingredients (and salt sachets that were in the unit).

Trying to fit spinach in bowl
Too many ingredients for one little bowl!

Ash mixing in spinach
Ash had to take over the mixing to protect Miranda’s newly-shellacked nails…

Uncooked damper

Cooked damper

Now, that’s how it would be cooked in an ideal world. However, due to our general lack of equipment, the measurements were very approximate, there wasn’t enough feta, there was too much cheddar, the spinach wasn’t chopped, the casserole dish we were using as a mixing bowl really wasn’t big enough so we had to decamp to the bench top, and the damper was cooked on a piece of alfoil in the oven that had to be carefully peeled from the bottom once they were done, rather than the tray that would have been preferable. Fortunately, this is a recipe that is very forgiving!

The other advantage of making damper was Miranda’s hen picnic, which was a gathering of lots of lovely ladies the day before the wedding to which everyone was asked to contribute either an Australian or an English dish. Damper therefore perfectly fit the bill and was, if I do say so myself, very well received! And despite very real fears about eating so much yummy food the day before the wedding, we can happily report that the dress did still fit.

Hen picnic - damper
Just a selection of dishes at the picnic (including the damper!)

We might not have cooked as many Australian dishes in Australia as planned, but we did manage a Kiwi feast! Stay tuned…

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